- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

BALDWYN, Miss. (AP) - A German scientist discovered something in 1895, but he wasn’t exactly sure what. That’s why he called them X-rays.

They’ve been used to make other discoveries ever since. An early researcher with X-rays at Yale University sent his assistant to the market to buy a rabbit.

“They determined the rabbit was murdered because of the buckshot,” said Nancy Adams, 70, of Belden.

She spent her professional career as a radiological technologist in Mississippi and Tennessee, where she worked at hospitals and clinics and took pictures of broken bones for doctors to set.

But many of the people she dealt with over the years were beyond repair.

“If someone was killed in a car crash or someone died under suspicious circumstances, they needed X-rays,” she said.

Adams was first sent to the morgue as a student, and the possibility of solving crimes or identifying missing people with forensic radiology fascinated her.

“I love a good mystery for one thing,” she said.

Until stepping down earlier this year, she was a member of a Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. One of the biggest disasters she faced was Hurricane Katrina.

In the very early going, there was no X-raying to do, so she stepped in to do other duties.

“People would report their family members missing, and we had to get information so we could identify them. You’re supposed to be professional when all you want to do is cry with them,” she said. “I was so glad I did not do any more of that than I did. That was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I have great admiration for people who do it.”

Adams felt more comfortable taking images of the dead. She used medical records from families to identify them.

One man’s pre-mortem X-ray showed a bone spur coming off his patella. Adams reproduced that image exactly, dispelling any doubt about his identity.

“The most satisfying aspect is being able to give the families - I don’t call it closure,” she said. “To me, it’s more a sense of peace, knowing for sure what happened to their loved ones.”

She wasn’t just focused on the recently departed. Part of her job was to get bodies back to their cemeteries after Hurricane Katrina washed them out.

“We located some of the caskets 30 miles away from where they were originally buried,” she said. “One of the most famous pictures was a casket up in a tree.”

Some of those bones dated back to the 1700s. She also took X-rays of 1,000-year-old bones when working with a team of anthropologists at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“We went down to look at the bones so they would have images to look for diseases that can affect the bones and study their dietary lifestyle,” Adams said.

A few years ago, that USM team connected Adams with the Mississippi Final Stands Interpretive Center in Baldwyn, where someone with a metal detector had discovered numerous items on and around the Brice’s Crossroads battlefield. Adams and a friend offered to X-ray them.

“There’s a wooden canteen. I think we found the cork or stopper inside the canteen,” she said. “There was a little doll we X-rayed. We wanted to see how they did dolls then. The little head was china or porcelain. The rest of it was cotton.”

What looked at first to be a belt buckle was tracked down by its patent number to be part of a rope tightener for beds from the days when the phrase, “sleep tight,” actually meant something.

Adams recognizes her debt to that German scientist, Wilhelm Rontgen. His X-rays made her vocation and avocation possible.

Sometimes, she looked beneath the surface to settle her curiosity or someone else’s; other times, it was to help solve a crime or give back a person’s name.

“I guess it’s a combination of loving a good mystery and loving history,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to find.”

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Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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